27 May, 2007

drum roll... my first beautiful pud

Would any of you, many of whom have been given fairly scary (or simply boring) puddings at my house, BELIEVE that I cooked this myself? And it tasted good, too. I honestly cannot tell you the howls of glee that emanated from me when this lovely dessert was finally plated up in my kitchen on Sunday afternoon. Let me tell you more.

I have been in a positive marathon of cooking lately, due to the piggybacking of two very important dinner parties in my life, on Sunday and Monday. I have lain awake many hours trying to think what starter, what main course, what salad, and finally, agonisingly, what pud. Not to mention did I have enough truly proper forks for three courses for 10 people? It turns out I did, but did I have enough napkins for two parties in a row? Yep, I did. But these thorny questions and decisions took up a lot of time. As a result, however, I have two fabulous party menus to give you, both of which are easy and requiring no special expertise. What the fabulous pud does require, however, is a kitchen implement new to my kitchen, but for which I have been longing for some months now: a steel ring, for presentation.

I know, it sounds unbearably pretentious. But it's indispensable. Here's how it works.

It's like a tall-ish tuna-fish can with no top and no bottom, and made of a heavier material. But what you do is make your cheesecake (or indeed your risotto, your parfait of crab, guacamole and oven-roasted tomatoes, or your scalloped potatoes), and you press your metal ring down onto the surface, lift it up, or pile the ingredients inside and lift it up, and there is... a perfect circular serving. I have tried it only with cheesecake, mind you, but I feel cautiously optimistic that the same method will work with anything that isn't desperately wobbly or liquidy. I am so excited, needless to say. Because while I am fairly confident family-feeding cook, I have long known that my food suffers from bad presentation. I tend to take a big spoon, scoop up a serving of whatever, and plop it on a plate, and then plop another thing down next to it, lay some asparagus spears next to that, and bob's your uncle.

But watching lots of cooking shows and eating at some very chi-chi restaurants in my fair city and abroad have taught me that... it's just not enough. Ugly food isn't as yummy. So I read a recipe for the raspberry cheesecake while on our holiday in Burgh Island, made a few changes (and would make even more changes next time, which I shall incorporate in the recipe here), and thought, "If only I had a little metal ring." So while in Islington last week I daringly acquired a set of rings (some tall and rather wide, and some shorter and not so wide), and had a go. I simply cannot tell you of my mood when this glorious thing appeared on the plate. You give it a try, now, do.

It's funny: this recipe is one of those examples of how English and American are NOT the same language, nor the same culture. Everything in it seems to need a translation! Including the measuring methods: I am going to give you the United Kingdom's (and most of the rest of the civilised world's) method of noting quantities in weight, not volume. When I make it next, I'll translate everything into cups instead of grams, because I am foolish enough to prefer the way I've always done things to learning something new. When it involves maths, that is.

The recipe calls for "curd cheese," which is a sort of combination of cream cheese and cottage cheese, and is as far as I know not available in the States. I did my shopping at a Lebanese food market, and so there was no curd cheese there, so I substituted cream cheese. John says he would prefer the cheesecake to have a lighter heft, so probably curd cheese would achieve that. I'll obviously be making this again, so I'll play around and let you know if anything here should be altered.

Raspberry Cheesecake with Fresh Raspberry Glaze
(serves ten, in pretty rings, with some scraps left over)

75 grams butter, melted
400 grams digestive biscuits (you could use graham crackers in America), whizzed till fine crumbs in your Magimix (that's Cuisinart to you across the pond)
750 grams cream cheese
220 grams double cream (whipping cream in the States)
175 grams icing sugar (confectioner's sugar back home), plus some to dust
36 grams cornflour (cornstarch in the States)
4 eggs and 1 egg white, beaten
2 tsps vanilla extract
zest and juice of 1 lime
400 grams grams fresh raspberries
2 tbsps Amaretto
1/2 cup caster sugar (in America, ordinary white sugar will do)

Preheat (I actually hate that word, I take it back). Heat your oven to 170 degrees celsius or about 325 fahrenheit. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, mix the whizzed cookies with the melted butter and press the mixture into the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mix cream cheese and cream with icing sugar and cornflour. Then add eggs and vanilla and lime juice and zest and mix till smooth. Fold about half the raspberries and pour onto the cookie base. Bake for 35 minutes or until firmly set but not browned. Let cool on counter and then refrigerate overnight.

Half an hour before serving, count out five raspberries per serving of cheesecake and set aside. The rest, put in a small saucepan with Amaretto and caster sugar and cook over medium heat until berries disintegrate completely. Press through a fine sieve.

Now, the RING! Run the ring under hot water and press onto the cheesecake at the outer edge (so as to make as many rings as possible). Press until you feel the bottom of the pan, then lift up. Magic! Press it with your hand on the top of the cheesecake ring onto a plate, very gingerly and gradually so as not to dent the cheesecake and to get it out evenly. Place five raspberries on the top, drizzle with the glaze and dust with icing sugar. Voila!

I felt like The Queen. You will too. More recipes for your two super dinner parties tomorrow. I have three children and a husband due back from Wicked! any moment and I must get sleepover bed cosy for their return...


Anonymous said...

I can't get my head around the difference between UK cheesecake and US cheesecake, or maybe NY cheesecake. I much much prefer the NY to the UK, but I can't put my finger on why.

Kristen In London said...

I've never replied to my own blog before, but here goes: I think US "cream cheese" has a bite, a sort of citrusy mouth-puckery bite, that adds a lot of flavor. That could be what you're tasting, as compared with the UK "curd cheese" that I have not yet found. I will find it, though, and give it a try.